What teachers around the country have to say

28th January 2000 at 00:00

Charlie Evitt, PT,Portobello High, Edinburgh: "We've had a generous presentation policy for Highers in the past, but on this year's evidence so far I think it should only be Standard grade Credit 1 and 2s who should be doing the Higher, General 3s doing Intermediate 2 and General 4s doing Intermediate 1. This would help my staff who are extremely stressed.

"Overall, this is a course aimed at making pupils work throughout the session. A bright pupil can no longer mark time and then shine in the exam. That helps with the work rate, though more able pupils take it in their stride. I like the freedom given to teachers through abandoning prescribed texts and making the report - which a lot of pupils don't care for - optional. But there's not enough time to do the literature we'd like to do. The more integrated you can make the course the better, showing pupils similarities in skills needed for interpretation and textual analysis.

"When it comes to internal assessment, I simply don't think that there's enough appreciation that English is a special case. You can't be hard and fast as to the right moment to test all pupils. You really have to treat pupils individually. Many, if not most, English teachers would say we've gone into this ill-prepared. The HSDU did its best but didn't supply enough material on time."


Jan Swanson, PT, Liberton High, Edinburgh "I'm not sure it benefits the pupils to have so many assessments. They have to pass one test to sit another, and they are saying they don't absorb the material properly before they're onto the next unit. They don't have time to get their teeth into it. It can be superficial.

"Come the exam, it won't be straight recall from unit material. They'll have to make connections, to integrate material from different units. You have to be wary of this, because the grading of internal assessment is at C level and you have to prepare the pupils more for the exam which will decide their grades for university entrance etc.

"I want them to feel successful, so we are leaving re-assessments until after the prelim in February, so that we don't pressurise the pupils too much.

"In teaching, too much time was spent on the first unit, so we had to increase the pace for the second and third units. It demands a lot from the pupils, especially those who've come back into computing in S6 and might not have done the subject since S2.

"A lot more time is now spent in assessing, marking, recording and administration."


Christine Pacione, PT, St Maurice's High, North Lanarkshire "With a relatively large department with four teachers we have two Higher classes and a separate Intermediate 2 and are coping reasonably well. But I feel sorry for smaller departments forced into composite classes where they have to teach the new Higher and Intermediate levels together.

"Geography hasn't seen as many changes as other subjects and we feel we are on target. The pupils have sat a lot of unit assessments now and for those who fail, the question is: when to re-assess? The HSDU has suggested waiting until they're more used to sitting assessments, but my feeling is to re-assess soon before they forget what they know.

"The pupils are coping well and we have made them responsible for keeping a record of their own marks so that they know if they need to be re-assessed. That way we won't forget anyone!

"The pupils had to knuckle down straightaway. There was no time for settling in. So, it's been a challenge for them as well.

"Marking internal assessments, you're never sure if we are all marking to the same standards, so meeting with colleagues from other schools is very important. We can share experience and compare assessments. I think our assessments are probably on the strict side."

Modern studies

Brian Paterson, PT, Boclair Academy, East Dunbartonshire

"In consultation with the pupils we are assessing learning outcome by learning outcome. We have three units covering 11 learning outcomes. This is the way the pupils wanted it, so that they get feedback on each stage. Teaching time is constrained and has to be focused. There's no chance to go into wider discussions.

"I was very positive going in and still am reasonably, but I'm not overly keen on the huge amount of assessment. Pupils having to jump 11 hurdles to sit an exam seems a bit much.

"Pupils who sat the old Higher say they prefer the new one, because it makes them work harder.

"The real problem for them is when assessments for different subjects come up on the same day or around the same time. It really puts the pressure on. Teething problems like this could have been sorted out if Higher Still had been properly piloted. In modern studies there is a lack of national assessment bank materials and we've had to use some old Higher material which isn't suitable.

"The key thing is maybe that some pupils who would have got nothing under the old system now at least can get some internals if not the exam. But, that said, what is the currency value of these internals? That isn't known yet. It does help with their confidence, though, and essay writing skills have really improved because of internals and constant feedback.

"We teach more essay skills now and you can see pupils learning to develop arguments."


Patrick McNaught, PT, Torry Academy, Aberdeen

"There has been a lot more work because of the re-ordering of topics from the old Higher and the amount of assessment and re-assessment which is also a new concept to the pupils. We're covering the units faster than I thought but there's no room for self-investigation or discovery learning.

"I don't think the units are a particularly good preparation for the final exam because they assess too little. There's not enough problem solving, extension work or application to the working world of chemistry. The section on Chemistry in Industry is a start, but this approach should be more integrated.

"There's been a lack of advice on how to design equipment for pupil use from a health and safety perspective. You're on your own.

"The Scottish Qualifications Authority - and I am a marker for it - doesn't seem to take into account that this is the first year of the new course. Its approach is not partnership, but ensuring that departments are up to scratch."

Physical education

Tom McGowan, PT, Dumfries High, Dumfries and Galloway

"The volume of assessment on analysis of performance has just been reduced by two-thirds as a result of pressure from the profession and this has been universally welcomed. It's a burden removed.

"The new Higher Still has been a learning experience for everyone, especially getting used to teaching bi-level groups covering Higher and Intermediate 2.

"Pupils here have been very complimentary about the fact that unit assessment is going on and say it makes them work harder. It's a challenge to teachers and pupils and has certainly led to more consistent effort from pupils. I think it will raise standards and produce a better quality of person.

"Where it was perhaps fragmentary before, it is now much more integrated and caters for far more pupils who are staying on after Standard grades.

"Higher Still simply recognises pupils who wouldn't have tried a Higher before. It's meeting the needs of youngsters."


Phillip Thorne, PT, St David's High, Midlothian

"It's hard work and it's exciting. All the elements seem to fit naturally together. Composition, playing together and technology are all in the same melting pot, as it should be. With the old Higher these tended to be done separately. The key may be technology, which all the pupils want to do.

"The pupils are very positive. A lot who haven't done Standard grades but maybe play a guitar in a pop group have joined, so there's a real cross-section. It's a lot more accessible and pupils can work at their own level, though most have opted for the full course. We have 46 students this year compared to 20 before. We are offering Higher and Intermediate 1 and 2. We can teach two sets at the one time, where we only have to differentiate for listening skills when necessary.

"Assessment is difficult because it's hard to get time to administer it. All our units run at the same time and they are all 'end-loaded'. So, we'll do final assessments as near to the exam as possible. For things like instrumental it has to be done close to exam time.

"There has been a huge increase in workload, but it's the only way we can deliver. We have three recording studios and they're always in use. The only way we can get peace and quality time for pupils is after school, so we run twilight classes three times a week to aid assessment.

"We put together a CD which the Higher Still people produced for us and we've sold 50 copies. So you could say the new Higher has made it a real world situation."


Ann Marie Sutherland, PT, St Thomas Aquinas, Glasgow

"Our department agreed to implement Higher, Intermediate 2 and Intermediate 1 this session, on condition that courses were funded.

"We were successful in an in-house bid for extra funding for all required textbooks - Heinemann Higher Maths, Intermediate 2 and Intermediate 1 (Nelson), TJ RevisionConsolidation packs for all courses and additional photocopying.

"Staff were commissioned to develop extra materials and organise appropriate resources.

"We have had invaluable help from the Glasgow maths adviser with planning courses and supplying revisionconsolidation materials.

"He organises regular meetings of principal teachers which have been been extremely helpful. We are very fortunate in maths to have an abundance of extra material - formal homeworks, practice tests, etc - from various sources such as Highland and Edinburgh councils. This has reduced enormously the amount of development work required.

"To date, only Unit 1 tests in all courses have been completed and practice tests have been given before Test 1 in all courses.

"This has ensured a minimum number of pupils requiring re-test and no pupils failed a re-test.

"The students appear to be much better motivated than in the past and working much harder than those who did modules.

"The mood in the department is very optimistic regarding all the courses."

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